anime, manga, video games - blog, podcast, news, reviews, columns

Review: Depression Quest

The game that inspired the hit Internet harassment campaign

Topics: , ,

It’s useless trying to write a review of Depression Quest in a vacuum. Like it or not, Depression Quest can never go back to being a simple video game (or Not a Video Game, depending on your perspective). Now and forever, it will be known as the game that sparked one of the largest, most visible video game controversies in the history of aggrieved Internet nerds. That's a shame.

I first heard of Depression Quest, an interactive digital narrative that attempts to approximate the experience of living with depression, when angry video gamers started harassing developer Zoe Quinn on Twitter for allegedly sleeping with Kotaku blogger Nathan Grayson in order to garner positive reviews for the game. Not the best introduction to a game, but it was free on Steam so I downloaded it and gave it a try.

One of the attacks lobbed at Depression Quest has been that it’s Not A Game, and that some sort of "corruption" had to be involved for it to gather support on Steam’s Greenlight service, in which players vote for games to get them distributed on Steam. Now I’m not going to deny that it's a borderline case for the definition of video games, but seeing as there’s no hard and fast definition anyway, this really isn’t a big deal. As far as I’m concerned, visual novels are considered video games, so why not Depression Quest — effectively a digital choose-your-own-adventure? (Anybody crowing about choose-your-own-adventure novels, know that I’m also fairly comfortable labeling them “games" — though not "video games" due to the lack of video.)

The game begins with a wall of second-person prose describing your character, who has no specific gender (allowing you to imagine them as yourself) and lives a fairly unremarkable life: working at a job they hate but taking solace in their supportive girlfriend. As you move the game forward by selecting dialogue choices and courses of action (“go to the party” or “stay home”), the symptoms of clinical depression begin to manifest. Your character loses their motivation to do things they once enjoyed and begins to form an internal monologue of negativity and self-doubt.

What makes Depression Quest remarkable, though, is a simple twist in the mechanics. Like a typical choose-your-own-adventure, you get to choose how your character proceeds at each fork in the road, but a person with depression isn’t fully in control of their decisions. Sometimes the depression takes over and forces your hand. To convey this, the game crosses out choices and colors them red so you can’t select them. As more and more of the positive actions that might draw you out of your depression get crossed out, the game becomes increasingly frustrating. If only you could calmly explain things to your girlfriend, you might be able to sort things out, but the only actionable options involve desperately clinging to her while telling her about how bad a person you are. Meanwhile, background music and visual aids subtly shift to become more atonal and less colorful as the depression deepens. Depression Quest isn’t fun, but then again it’s not supposed to be.

I’ve never experienced true depression, but I went though a brief phase where I felt some of the symptoms. Luckily I was never remotely suicidal, but one thing from those few months that sticks in my mind is that smiling was physically difficult. I would put up a good face for family and friends but then drop back into exhausted ruminations the moment they were gone. Depression Quest manages to hit on one of the most fundamental feelings that drives depression: the feeling of being trapped inside your own head without any perceivable options outside of the most negative, self-destructive ones. It’s not possible to “win” in Depression Quest, and the game’s ending is appropriately inconclusive. Depression never truly ends; no matter how well you stave it off, it can always find a way back in.

Rarely have I seen a game so effectively use failure as a device for both gameplay and narrative.

You can easily finish Depression Quest in one to two hours, depending on your reading speed and how much you like to stop and think over your choices in role-playing games. It’s not a particularly rich experience, but as an experiment in “un-fun” games, it’s actually quite good. Rarely have I seen a game so effectively use failure as a device for both gameplay and narrative — usually it is only presented as a contrast to success, the dominant paradigm of video games. What’s most disappointing is that Depression Quest doesn’t go further. Imagine a game with more degrees of freedom (like, say, a point-and-click adventure) and similar mechanics that restrict your actions based on your character’s mood. The frustrating effect of depression might be made even more powerful if your character has more agency that is being arbitrarily taken away.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to extricate Depression Quest from the so-called “GamerGate” controversy, so lots of people will discount it as “that game that Zoe Quinn made.” The details of the harassment of a number of game designers and journalists is a topic for a different post, and if you’re curious, please read the many posts that sum it up better than I can in this review. The evidence against Quinn has been thin at best — Grayson never covered Depression Quest once they started their relationship — but regardless of any of that, her game is a great example of the potential for activist game design: games that can make us think about real issues and sometimes even help real people affected by them by putting us in the shoes of others. I don’t need to have slept with the developer to recognize smart game design when I see it.

Depression Quest is available now on Steam and the game's official website, where the developers are supporting their work with a "pay what you want" model.

Otakon 2014: The Panels

Movie premieres, devil cartoons, and sweet, sweet alcohol

Topics: , , , , , ,

This has been a long time comin', perhaps a little too long, and we apologize. Luckily, panel reports are tasty no matter when you dig into them!


This panel report might be a little shorter than the usual. Given the number of guests and the corresponding number of Q&As and interviews for which all Ani-Gamers hands were on deck, the time we as individuals got to devote to going to other panels was all too brief. Not to mention that there was quite a bit of unwitting overlapping. Be that as it may, read on to discover some panels you might want to see at some future con, possibly next otakon, get some ideas for a panel you might wanna do, or whatever else. Hey, we just write the words. What you do with 'em is up to you.


Intro To Josei

It’s great to see some light being shed on josei titles, media targeting later teenage to adult female readers or featuring likewise-aged protagonists, but it’s a shame that it had to be Friday’s sunrise which did so. Even though it started the con off as one of the first (of seven) panels offered at 10 am (so it wasn’t arguably that early), the room was decently full; a few empty chairs allowed latecomers like myself and Evan to find seats. While we were only ten to fifteen minutes late, it was clear via slideshow hiccup that we had already missed a barrage of content. The format was simple enough: breaking down josei titles into sub-genres—Slice of Life, Theatrical/Dramatic, Historical, Supernatural, Fantasy, Weird—with two recommendations cited in detail for each and some other glossed-over honorable mentions. Presenters McKenzie and Jean made an effort to avoid recommending familiar titles, but still veered into the mainstream (Kids on the Slope, Karneval) on occasion. The limited smattering of applause and woots from the audience showed that most chosen titles were, indeed, new to the audience. So great job there! Also, the back-and-forth and jovial attitude of the presentation made for a fun and fluid atmosphere. The only real problems I had were the inconsistent mentioning of the manga-ka and the magazines that published their works as well as some clips that ran too long. [Ink]

Light Novel Translation

“Translators are at the mercy of the text,” was the quote on the screen when I walked into a panel about translating light novels. Presented by Paul Starr, translator for such notable light novel series as Haruhi Suzumiya and Spice & Wolf, started off by running through some slides with the various tools he uses for his work. For each example, he explored the benefits and drawbacks as well as alternate takes afforded by each tool and then defined his own process: looking up japanese words in a japanese dictionary first and then consulting the Internet for current usage and applicable contemporary usage variations. At one point, Starr confessed, half in jest and half in earnest, that the use of Yahoo! Answers by Japanese students and teachers has been infinitely helpful. Starr also ran the audience through the frustration of what he deemed the second step in his process: “Deciding how to say it in English.” Here he spoke to challenges, including concepts, context, phrasing, references, and linguistic limitations, faced during his work on the aforementioned titles as well as the lengths to which he went in making them seem fluid and poignant to an English-reading audience. While difficult, the challenges shown by Starr illustrated the opportunity for creativity to overcome such hurdles. As he put it, “Even though you know exactly what’s being said, there’s not necessarily an obvious way to say it in English.“ Starr also noted how such creativity can cause problems even amongst “reasonable, well-informed people.” The exploration of these and other related issues, especially given the titles in focus, was a treat for word/language nerds and hopefully a catalyst for respect due to all in this role. [Ink]

Mai Mai Miracle Screening with Sunao Katabuchi

If you’ve never heard of or seen Mai Mai Miracle, a movie that adapts a novelization of Nobuko Takagi’s autobiography, watch the following and then read on:

This is directed by the same man responsible for directing Black Lagoon. And for all the adrenaline that adaptation brings to life (motion), so Mai Mai Miracle delivers an outpouring of sympathetic sentiment regarding the imagination of children, making friends, growing up, and saying goodbye. It’s not a sad movie by any means, although there is some somberness woven into the sense of nostalgic longing, but there was not a dry eye after the screening. In fact, Sunao Katabuchi (the director) took questions immediately after explaining how the movie came to be, and every single person who took the mic from his hand and asked their question did so through a voice positively choked up with emotion. The animation (Madhouse) is beautiful and imaginative, the score is a sublime complement, and the script for the children is incredibly true to childhood. As much as Katabuchi made it clear in his remarks about the movie that he was attempting to preserve a specific moment in time for Takagi and the people of Yamaguchi Prefecture (where the movie takes place), the movie itself makes evident how universal childhood is and how much it still tugs at the heartstrings no matter how far the years advance us. Sadly, there were far too many empty seats in the largest video room at Otakon for this North American premiere. [Ink]

Kurosawa: Romancing the Samurai

Plisken and Panda of The Manly Battleships introduced filmmaker Akira Kurosawa as part of a family with samurai ties and a man who was influenced by Western cinema. The panel ran the audience though Kurosawa’s accomplishments in film and his positions while climbing the industry ladder. While intertwining information about Kurosawa’s personal life (marriage and offspring) the presenters pointed out prominent outcomes and techniques as related to the director’s various working relationships. There was a comprehensive rundown of the director’s prominent works as well as his early involvements, most of which punctuated by a short clip. In the end, the panel was more a biography than true to the theme which the title implied. This is a shame given how knowledgeable the presenters seemed regarding Kurosawa’s experiences and the overarching effects they had on his career. A little application would have gone a long way in making this one heck of a panel. [Ink]

Japanese Drinking Culture: Proper Etiquette and Presentation

At Otakon 2013, master sake sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto gave one heck of a general primer panel that focused on various libations available in Japan. So when I saw she was giving a panel on drinking culture at Otakon 2014, I cleared everything else from my schedule. I was not disappointed. To comply with an all-ages panel designation, Soto first imparted some knowledge about tea. This included the four basic principles—harmony, respect, purity, tranquility—as well as some notes on ceremony: dress, tools, and behavior. With that out of the way (but not irrelevant), the fun began. While “Not getting drunk is unmannerly” was the hook of the 21+ part of the presentation as well as its general tone, the presentation was more about how to be a good drunk when hosting and being hosted. Tips and pointers, learned the hard way via personal experience, were served up by Soto with a side of some self-deprecating humor concerning guest drinking order, pouring procedures, ordering and appreciating cocktails, karaoke rules, and “the art of getting home.” The latter, which builds on the aspect of respecting one’s host by not being a jerk, was the most revelatory to me. Through this, people in Japan generally pay no mind to those passed out drunk on sidewalks and other public spaces, because in their eyes, those sleeping it off are not putting anyone in harms way (as opposed to driving home). Thus they “engage in the social contract” by respecting others’ safety. Another fantastic panel! [Ink]

Satanicartoons: The Devil in Anime

With all the ambiguity surrounding “Lucifer,” “the devil” and “Satan,” not to mention the frequent substituting of one name with the other in stories, most of the West has trouble distinguishing the three. Now take that confusion and apply a fuzzier Eastern filter to it, and you get Mike Toole’s Santanicartoons panel. But Toole’s done his homework, and leveraging that, as well as exploring the devil’s most basic role as adversary, Toole runs through anime, cartoon, and video games examples wherein “the devil” appears, examines what role he/it fills — superhero, monster, ideal of evil — and looks at how and to what degree those roles are leveraged. As a sort of running gauge, the multitudinous examples were strung lightly together by a judgement on whether the character was only a namesake representation or whether there was actually some embodiment of specific traits. As usual with any Toole panel, the dry delivery of humor and choice clips from his examples (from way back to recently streaming) made for an engaging and fun time. [Ink]

A Japanese Fairy Tale: The Dragon and the Shisa

Members of the Chin Hamaya Cultural Center enacted a Japanese folk tale, which takes place in Okinawa, wherein the wrath of a dragon terrorizes the citizens and a shisa comes to protect them. One person orated the tale, while others played the parts of villagers, the dragon, and the shisa. The dragon, sadly, was stolen and could not be replaced before Otakon, so the outfit made do with a smaller stuffed dragon. To the troupe’s credit, that worked just fine. The shisa was more impressive, however, as a two-man puppet (think chinese dragon costume) that combines the likenesses and traits of a lion and a dog. The mood was light, aided by some intermittent commentary by the narrator, and the tale was over way too quickly (~16 min) for all the joy it brought.

Afterwards, the troupe explained the origin of the fairy tale and its variants, showed a slideshow of Okinawa with all its shisa statues, and then went to some Q&A. After one audience member asked after the workings of the shisa costume, there were lengthy explanations of tumbling and the various acrobatics required. After that, there were demonstrations of dance with custom-made, hand-held shisas as well as another, riotous dance backed by live taiko. This was a fantastic experience. The room was full, and I hope it comes around again so more people can go see it. [Ink]

Kill la Kill: Spot the References Beginner's Edition

Broadly speaking, there are two fields of thought when it comes to analyzing the influences and meaning of a creative work. Some critics prefer to consider the authorship of the work as basically irrelevant, instead focusing on the themes and allusions that will (consciously or otherwise) connect the reader with the text. For anyone who’s seen a Charles Dunbar (Study of Anime) panel, this is the sort of analysis he’s engaged in, connecting modern anime series with ancient mythology in unique ways. Then there’s Daryl Surat (Anime World Order), who is sometimes comically strict with his critique: the connection can only be made if there is sufficient evidence that the author(s) saw the alluded work and that it directly influenced the finished product. In keeping with that philosophy, Daryl’s superb Kill la Kill panel made a case for over a dozen references in the series by showing the originals then following them up with the Kill la Kill version, all while keeping in mind that references only count if they are a) recognizable as such and b) things that the creators would have been consciously aware of. The referenced titles included Gutsy Frog (about sentient clothing, and a favorite of Studio Trigger), Sukeban Deka (delinquent female transfer student, with an ending credits sequence from the drama series that directly mirrors KLK’s), and a double-whammy of Armored Trooper VOTOMS and Aim for the Ace! (referenced side-by-side in episode 2 of Kill la Kill). [Evan]

Ninjas, Spider Monsters and Cyber Criminals: The Great Worlds of Yoshiaki Kawajiri

I will not remember this panel for its well-thought out and researched content. I will not remember this panel for all the examples of Kawajiri that define Kawajiri. I will forever remember this panel for presenter Vincenzo Averello testing the strength of the audience’s sensitivity to offensive content by rolling a clip of Detroit Metal City and gauging their reactions through squinted, judgemental eyes. After a quick (one minute?) introduction to the director’s accomplishments, the panelist launched into an exhaustive list (literally, there was no work left unexamined) of titles in which Kawajiri was involved. Along the way, Vinnie noted what role Kawajiri played in each production and pointed out his influence in short clips via poignant narration. And while I say which roles, I don’t mean to make his involvement sound limited. For as Vinnie pointed out, “Kawajiri always played 100 roles in the production process in each of these films.” Throughout all the projects, while noting Kawajiri’s most distinctive contribution to each, Vinnie also kept pointing out previously mentioned characteristics, which tied all the titles and the attention to Kawajiri’s influence together quite nicely. After exhausting Kawajiri titles, the presenter went on to select works of those Kawajiri worked with as well as his present status and rumors of future works. [Ink]

Sake


The Visual Novel: Psychology of the Unrecognized Narrative Art

Building a panel around a good, though poorly supported or totally unsupported, idea is much like flushing out a poem with languid prose to justify a single line of actual consequence. Starting off with a lengthy panelist introduction might be useful if you majored in psychology and were making use of your degree, but that simply was not the case here; the psychological perspective promised in the panel description arrived almost as a footnote*. The presenter, representing the Academy of Narrative Art, looked instead at the history and evolution of methods of storytelling through aspects unique to specific mediums—novels, film, TV, comics, etc.—and then compared them with vitriol to the ALMIGHTY VISUAL NOVEL (VN). Every other medium is dead, according to the panelist. (Though to give him the benefit of the doubt, he probably just meant plateaued with regards to form and function). After noting how VNs borrow and combine specific aspects of other mediums to form the UBER MEDIUM, the presenter expounded upon the evolution of the VN. This was the breadth of the panel, which was unfortunately more history lesson than psychological analysis. Thus the panel devolved more into “The History of VN Marketing” or “Compounding Examples of How Readers are Getting Lazier.” In truth, psychology enters into both, but the presenter didn’t use the plethora of tools associated with the cited field of study to observe as much. The best points were instead very subtle, such as the mental trickery inherent in the medium: the text to sex scene bait-and-switch format or the indeterminable page count hidden by digital form factor and the (relatively) fixed-pace, click-as-you-go, choose-your-own-adventure structure—both of which make those adverse to reading do so despite their perusing preference. I wish a more solid case had been built around the most solid line to come out of the panel (*“VNs are the amplification of simplification, simplified to foster projection onto the protagonist.”), but that is not what happened. Due to its structure, this panel unfortunately was little more than a painfully transparent attempt at justifying a love of the medium via pseudo-academic posturing. I think the research necessary to make this a great panel is already there, but it needs a sharper focus and a more well-constructed argument. [Ink]

The Classic Anime and Japanese Pro Wrestling Connection

Hard Sell: Con Panel. Sunday morning. “Classic anime.” Pro wrestling. Individually, any of these three factors is not the optimal audience draw, and together they seem like a presentation that wouldn’t bring in enough people with vested interest to fill the space of a janitor’s closet. And yet, in a pretty large panel room, Daryl Surat drew and sustained a sizable crowd worthy of the room’s dimensions. What kept everyone there was the magic. No, that’s doing the panel content some major injustice. Surat built a narrative, using history as a linear guide, that took ears, eyes, and minds through a journey of artistic, social, and national consequence: televised wrestling matches, the evolution of shonen formula, its influence on sports, and on and on and on. Precise examples, some inventive connections, a clear love for all he spoke to, and the underlying historical perspective pulled every bit of offered content together to make this panel not only informative but thoroughly and unexpectedly enjoyable. [Ink]


For more of our Otakon 2014 coverage, click here.

Snapshot: Portrait of Young Woman in Front of Mirror - or - Narcissism at Its Finest (Working!!)

Topics: , , ,

Although Wagnaria!! (Working!!) depends upon situational humor bolstered by writing that relies (in part) upon repetition of such shallowness as tropes and the interaction of caricatures for quick punchlines, the series is also aware of that fact and occasionally uses its self-actualized state to goad audience appreciation. Case in point: the first minute and seven seconds of the last episode in Season 1—more specifically the latter 37 seconds as compared to the first 30 seconds (which represent the animation of the series as a whole)—wherein a young man casually leaves his house and a young woman prepares for his arrival and their subsequent departure together.

After watching 12 episodes worth of standard animation, viewers think nothing of watching the succeeding 30 seconds of the next episode under the same conditions … until a camera hold and noticeably increased fluid motion buck complacency by reflecting just how manic and under-animated the series has been thus far by comparison. Defying the expected, the next 37 seconds not only stop pandering to the omniscient viewership norm (constant cuts focusing on whoever’s speaking) but also hone focus and seemingly slow time by increasing the level of detail given to Inami’s movements. The resulting fixed point of view and portrayal of smoother motion makes the scene stand out. But why here? Why now?

(Click on the above picture and watch until time stamp 01:07)

Well, this scene is the precursor to the season’s climax. Inami is about to go on what she perceives as her first date with Takanashi, the young man for whom she’s fallen and who is also her coworker and the one tasked with attempting to cure her downright dangerous androphobia (abnormal fear of men). While taught by her father to distrust men (with extreme prejudice), Inami has, for the first time in her life, become enamored of a male, and his importance to her is 3-fold: coworker, therapist, and love interest. So it’s easy to see why she’s stressed about the date. The preceding episode took care of all the cliché overexcited indecision regarding preparation and sleeplessness. What this particular moment in Episode 13 highlights, what this particular Snapshot focuses on, is the dedication to the ritual of mental preparation via physical assessment.

Who, whether male or female (regardless of which you identify with), hasn’t spent a few extra minutes in front of a mirror before a first date. The feeling of anxiety is nigh inescapable, and the only solace to be had before the doorbell ring is the confirmation via reflection that the image seen in the mirror is at least somewhat in line with one’s own self-image. The focus on self is acute. This is why Working!! effectively slows time by closely animating Inami’s subtle motions, which are, themselves, slowed down to a level uncharacteristic of any other animation within the series. This increased attention towards the constant movement of her entire physical self (as opposed to just an arm or a leg) as her body shifts to and fro in the mirror portrays Inami observing herself, judging herself, with a particular degree of self-awareness. She’s hyping herself up, and the close attention, the smoothness dedicated solely here to her swaying and primping, betrays that otherwise unspoken fact. These motions would mean nothing, after all, if only given the illusion of movement. The implementation of detail here adds time, in a sense, by taking the time to get everything just right.

Similarly, this is why the scene employs a fixed camera. To Inami, there is no-one else in the world right now. Only her image matters, because it must represent who she truly is as to ensure her date sees the same: her true self (no matter how untrue that sentiment actually is in real life). Even though her mother calls Inami out of her room for a brief moment, there isn’t any cut. Inami is, in her head, focused on primping; she’s still in front of that mirror, in front of the camera, no matter where she is. Thus when she steps away from the mirror, the camera stays there. Viewers stay in her mind, which is not on her mother’s advice but on the time she should be spending getting everything just perfect for the date. The level of concentration on her own absence from the mirror is illustrated in the thrice internally blown curtain, which is subject to the same detailed animation as Inami herself, in what was previously but a static background. The blowing curtain makes Inami’s absence all the more ostensible by implicating that vacuum of presence. When she returns, the curtain settles. What’s more, Inami closes that window before she leaves and takes the camera, her presence, with her as the scene ends with her exit. She’s now focused on what’s ahead, not what’s within.


Wagnaria!! is streaming on Cruchyroll and available via RightStuf and Amazon.

My thanks to Evan Minto for correcting me on the the specifics behind the effects I observed regarding the animation in this scene. What I originally thought was due to increased frame rate was actually just the depiction of slower movement and more intricate animation.

Interview: Sword Art Online Producer Shinichiro Kashiwada

Topics: , , , ,

In addition to our interview with Hidenori Matsubara, David and Evan sat down with Shinichiro Kashiwada, a producer at anime production company Aniplex, at Otakon 2014. Kashiwada has coordinated the productions of Sword Art Online, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, OreImo, and The Irregular at Magic High School (Mahouka). Once again, we'd like to thank Otakon staff for coordinating the interview, as well as the translator and Mr. Kashiwada himself for taking the time to sit down with us!

Ani-Gamers: The title of "Anime Producer" isn’t always well understood by fans in the United States, so could you describe what you do as a producer at Aniplex?

Shinichiro Kashiwada: First, as the label producer, my job is to actually come up with a project, particularly a title that will sell. Our current business model is direct-to-video sales — there might be secondary merchandising, but the gist of the business is all about video sales. So when I say sell, I mean in terms of that. I make decisions about things like genre based on what will sell.

Financing is essential when creating anime. A show might cost a few hundred million yen, and it’s quite a risky venture for a single company to embark on. In the spring of this year, there were about 50 animated shows and only about two or three of them were hits, meaning another 40-some-odd shows were not successful, so it’s very risky. In order to disperse that risk, today’s model is the production committee system, where several companies pool their funding to be involved in the production of an animated title.

Once we have financing for a show, it’s also the producer’s job to select the studio to create the animation, for example A-1 Pictures on Sword Art Online and Madhouse on Mahouka. The producer also hires the director and character designer, as well as the musical talents for the opening and closing songs.

From there on, it’s the label producer’s job to come up with how to package the DVDs, decide on the number of volumes and how many episodes per volume, draw up a release schedule, and generally come up with a product that will be attractive to customers.

"10,000 DVDs sold" is currently used as a potential guideline to quantify the success of a show.

You mentioned only a certain number of shows will be a “hit” every year. How do you define a “hit” for Aniplex? Is it just sales or is there a bigger picture involved?

Well, to be frank, the production budget for an animated show is all over the place. For instance, the production budget for Sword Art Online and Mahouka are very different. Sword Art has 24 episodes a season, so the simple math for a production budget might be 24 times the budget for a single episode. But on top of that you may have other budget considerations such as promotion and miscellaneous costs. With all that in mind, say a particular DVD sells 10,000 copies. Would that be enough to recoup the production costs? It really depends, but that may not be the only way to quantify success. You can’t just say that 10,000 would be the magic figure, but that is currently used as a potential guideline to quantify the success of a show.

How did you arrive at the selection of Miyuki Sawashiro as the voice of Sinon in Sword Art Online Season 2? It seems like Ms. Sawashiro is a very experienced voice actor, but she plays a very young character in the series.

Sinon was actually a special case, but normally for voice casting for Japanese animation, it’s done through an audition process. For example, there were over 50 responses each to the casting calls for Kirito and Asuna. The people selecting the actors that we use during the audition process usually consist of staff such as the director and producer, and sometimes the original author and editor. That’s how Asuna and Kirito were selected.

When Aniplex brings a series to the US under the Aniplex of America distributor, what sort of considerations are involved on the Japanese end for you as a producer?

In general, I lend my help in any kind of promotional activity that might be necessary, including convention appearances such as today. But otherwise, the show itself is already completed, so the actual marketing is up to Aniplex of America, and that would include the English dub, since on the Japan side we would have no idea what kind of English voice actors are popular. However, I still consider the actual packaging of the media to be essential to the marketing, so that’s something that I ask to be sent back to me for feedback.

Click here for more coverage of Otakon 2014.

Review: Joshi Kausei

Show (a little too much), Don't Tell

Topics: , ,

Ken Wakai’s manga Joshi Kausei (JyoshiKausei), which should not be confused with Towa Oshima’s Joshi Kousei (High School Girls), is an exercise in show, don’t tell—the art of relaying a story without relying upon dialog to spell things out for the reader. Joshi Kausei focuses on random moments in the fictional life of Momoko, “a high school girl who’s super laid back.” Although the situations—wandering around, cooling off on a hot day, riding home on the train, etc.—are often quite simple, there’s a good deal of ingenuity and heart behind their conveyance. There’s also some cheating regarding the whole dialog-free concept and, unfortunately, more than some voyeurism issues, but overall this is a lighthearted and unexpectedly enjoyable portrayal of “The leisurely life of a carefree high school girl” (and, vis-à-vis, youth in general).

The short, slice-of-life skits comprising each chapter carry more of a reflective air than an observational one, meaning that reading along feels more like remembering than discovering. This works exceptionally well for highlighting the same sort of trivial things most people do but take for granted as youths—carrying around random objects and finding the myriad uses for which they were not originally intended, the odd moments that make up the majority of the time spent hanging out with friends in private and in public, the circumstances behind how certain friends came to be friends—and imbuing the depictions of which with a very realistic human warmth. As natural as the stories feel, however, the manga is at its best when playing with juxtaposition and transposition. Whether it’s by twisting the trite, playing on tropes, or using the pacing and sequencing of specific events to reap a legitimate surprise, the manga has a very real talent for eliciting chortles and “ha!”s.

On the flip side, Joshi Kausei is at its creepiest when lurking like a stalker armed with a cellphone camera. Take Chapter 2 or Chapter 18, both of which are dedicated to the stripping off of clothes, for example. There are also several changing scenes, arguably incidental lewd poses, and unfortunate angles aplenty that seem drawn to titillate a voyeuristic audience. For almost every questionable shot, there seems to have been a better way it could have been drawn. But the fan service is not always leveraged for lasciviousness. In fact, all of the above might not be intended as fan service at all. In addition to a couple of moments wherein they are used as bait-and-switch humor, catalysts for the refreshingly unexpected, or for depiction of strain (see dentist chair Chapter 17), the multitudinous panty shots and poses can be viewed as portrayal of a youth not mindful of the world around her and totally fascinated by the world before her. Of course, who the reader is plays a large part in how the content is interpreted, but as this is a seinen manga, I’ll leave judgment up to any and all of the individuals who flip through the digital pages.

Even if one chapter seems offensive, there’s most likely an inoffensive chapter that follows shortly, if not immediately, thereafter. While the longest chapter comes in at around 20 pages and the shortest is around 10, most fall in-between at around 15 or 16. This is a perfectly ample amount of space with which to tell the intended short stories, which are, true to Wakai’s mission statement, free of dialog. There’s some mild cheating here and there though, and some of it is a clever way to skirt the guideline. A teacher’s dramatic hand slap against a blackboard message: clever. A lengthy cellphone text pointing out unnecessary details: unfortunate. Sound effects EVERYWHERE despite an adeptness at indicating motion in still images: gratuitous at best. An adjective floating above a character’s head while she’s already drawn tellingly: unforgivable. Luckily, all of those instances (save the sound effects) are pretty rare.

If you like cute girls doing cute things, this manga’s right up your alley. Despite its unfortunate (read: creepy) aspects, it manages to be cute and warm and, in some instances, quite witty. The amount of universally identifiable material makes me wonder if I actually grew up as an adolescent girl, which also makes me wonder why Wakai, who handled both the “writing” and illustrations, is drawing girls instead of guys. Though, with all the gaze pandering (be it for audience or self), I guess that's sadly not too tough to assume. Futabasha originally published Joshi Kausei, which Google Chrome humorously translates as "Woman Cow Students" on Wakai’s blog, where he tells a little about his thoughts on each chapter. If you’d like to read/see more of Wakai’s work, he also contributed to the Daily Lives of High School Boys anthology and, perhaps more tellingly of his tendencies, authored one more title.